New Merc is in an (E) class of its own

I HAD a nice massage today, while driving a Mercedes through the forests on the outskirts of Wiesbaden. We reviewed the new E Class Coupe recently and this wagon is from the same grown-up stable. It&rsquo;s the workhorse of the family, and just the thing for taking the children back to prison after half term and lugging all the kit that comes with this task.<br /><br />This is without doubt one of the most popular cars in the line-up of the boarding school run and there&rsquo;s good reason for that. The E Class offers space, comfort and neat styling that appeals to just about everyone. <br /><br />Aesthetically, this is the best looking E Class estate in a while and here on the 2010 models, new features abound &ndash; it&rsquo;s no surprise that LED running lights are one of those new additions.<br /><br />Shooting to the rear, the two backwards-facing child seats are easy to put together, with adjustable head restraint height and the obligatory drinks holder. You might say that this is Mercedes-Benz&rsquo;s contribution to family planning.<br /><br /><strong>MAGIC MASSAGE</strong><br />With room for two adults in comfort or three adults-in-training in the middle row, there is a decent amount of legroom and another bonus, a double sunroof, so the driver and rear passengers can enjoy the lighter, more airy cabin.<br /><br />The best bit for me was the oh-so-huggy seats, which are operable via buttons at the side. Weights in the seats detect a lean into a bend and out of nowhere the sides of the seats flex in and hold you in place. It feels so good. Not only that, but there&rsquo;s the magic massage button that calls on lots of little motors within the seat to knead away at your back gently but fairly effectively.<br /><br />In short, driving through the forests of stunning falling red leaves on super-smooth German roads while being massaged and held in place by broad shoulders felt pretty damn good.<br /><br />I wanted to get my hands on the uber-paced E63 AMG but so did countless others and there were only two available so that test will have to come later. Instead, I plucked the E 350 CGI BlueEfficiency with 292bhp from the line-up, and good it is too &ndash; at its best when you select Sport mode over Comfort. As weary as I was from a week of heavy travelling and driving, Comfort mode was just a bit too wafty and indifferent to the right foot prompts when a surge of power was needed for overtaking.<br /><br />The US-style stick-shift which you use to select Drive first &ndash; you can leave it at that or switch to using the paddles on the wheel instead &ndash; will prove the crowd pleaser on this model, and it works smoothly and efficiently with the Blue Tec diesel engine.<br /><br /><strong>SONOROUS DING</strong><br />All manner of safety devices feature. If you nod off and drift over a white line, a buzzing will be felt through the steering wheel. A red warning triangle shows up on the dash if you are too close to the car in front, accompanied by a small, sonorous ding. Select reverse and the centre screen shows what&rsquo;s happening out back, but I felt unable to trust a screen to show distance, and split my eyes between reality and the camera picture.<br /><br />The boot requires just a gentle lift under the tailgate to open automatically and with the luggage cover in use, this slides out of the way while the boot opens to avoid you having to put down anything you may be carrying. And why would you want to get your hands dirty when you close it again? You don&rsquo;t have to, there&rsquo;s another button to press that does it for you.<br /><br />Avant-garde trim offers the full entertainment show &ndash; screens in head restraints, headphone sockets et al. Mercedes has upped the standard features list, which will endear new buyers and almost certainly rake some in from the competition, especially since it has dropped the price across the range by 4 per cent.<br /><br />I also drove the entry-level E 220 CDI (170bhp), which I found more spirited, but I felt that with a full load of teenagers on board, that might not translate so well on the power-to-weight front.<br /><br />Mercedes-Benz has upgraded what was already a very competent, luxury family barge to a more sophisticated vehicle for the discerning buyer.<br /><br /><strong>THE FACTS: </strong><br />MERCEDES BENZ E CLASS ESTATE<br /><strong><br />PRICE:</strong> &pound;38,320<br /><strong>0-60MPH:</strong> 7.0 secs<br /><strong>TOP SPEED:</strong> 155 mph<br /><strong>CO2 G/KM:</strong> 206<br /><strong>MPG Combined:</strong> 32.1